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Identification of ASCL1 as a determinant for human iPSC-derived dopaminergic neurons.

Sci Rep. 2021 Nov 15;11(1):22257. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-01366-4. PMID: 34782629; PMCID: PMC8593045.

Authors/Editors: Earley AM, Burbulla LF. Krainc D, Awatramani R.
Publication Date: 2021

Abstract

During cellular specification, transcription factors orchestrate cellular decisions through gene regulation. By hijacking these transcriptional networks, human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) can be specialized into neurons with different molecular identities for the purposes of regenerative medicine and disease modeling. However, molecular fine tuning cell types to match their in vivo counterparts remains a challenge. Directing cell fates often result in blended or incomplete neuron identities. A better understanding of hPSC to neuron gene regulation is needed. Here, we used single cell RNA sequencing to resolve some of these graded molecular identities during human neurogenesis from hPSCs. Differentiation platforms were established to model neural induction from stem cells, and we characterized these differentiated cell types by 10x single cell RNA sequencing. Using single cell trajectory and co-expression analyses, we identified a co-regulated transcription factor module expressing achaete-scute family basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor 1 (ASCL1) and neuronal differentiation 1 (NEUROD1). We then tested the function of these transcription factors in neuron subtype differentiation by gene knockout in a novel human system that reports the expression of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), the rate limiting enzyme in dopamine synthesis. ASCL1 was identified as a necessary transcription factor for regulating dopaminergic neurotransmitter selection.

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